Nobody can leave well enough alone these days, can they? This is the third time in a year I’ve reviewed continuations of long-dead properties whose original run ended on a perfect note but felt that there’s still some more money to be squeezed out of it. Rowling was a bit more clever than most— she said, “I’m not going to write another book!” and then wrote a play instead. One of the Marauders would pull something like that. She did get someone else to write the play, which should help matters, but makes her seem wishy-washy instead. If you’re gonna go back on your promise, you might as well go hard. But who cares, right? Good lit is still good lit. And I haven’t despised the continuations that I’ve experienced. I enjoyed The Force Awakens, and I believe that Go Set A Watchman was at least worth the attempt, considering its goals. I can’t say that Cursed Child is a cash grab for certain (although, let’s be real, it is), but great stories can still be told from beginnings like that.
And I do have a history of underestimating J.K. Rowling. While all my first and second grade friends were casting spells and speaking Parseltongue, I could never get past that boring first chapter in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. But on one slow, hot day, I grinded my way through Chapter 1 only to discover myself flying though the rest of the books in record time. I can still finish reading Philosopher’s Stone faster than it takes me to watch the movie of the same name. So yeah, I was a Potterhead. I still am. Cursed Child, while not as earth shattering or powerful as the original books, still serves as a delightful conclusion to what (I hope for real this time) will be the end of the series.
One part of my responsibilities as a member of the MyTrendingStories team includes signing up for a bunch of social media accounts. I now have a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, as required by my company. I also have a Tumblr, though MyTrendingStories did not require one from me for some reason. Maybe they have grim hopes for Tumblr’s future.
MyTrendingStories asked that I create a Pinterest and Instagram account too. At first, I had no idea what to do with these. Then I got a good idea (a daily occurrence for me, though I do like these ones).
I’m trying to keep up an active reading life, but I have no interest in reviewing or talking about my books on this blog. Either the books aren’t that relevant at this time, or there’s just not much to say about them. So instead of writing a thousand words on a book, I’ll just use a picture. Starting now, you can check out what books I’m reading by following my Instagram. What’s so special about that? My review will consist of one picture, with maybe a few words explaining my object choice. Take, for example, Matthew Lewis’ The Monk. I consider the story crazy, gross, unintentionally hilarious, but compelling in a so-bad-it’s-good way. Therefore, there will be a picture in my Instagram captioned ‘A Review of “The Monk” by Matthew Lewis.’ The picture will contain a section of The Wicked Bible colored by glowstick fluid and sitting on a toilet. There will also be a hidden penis on the photo. And when I finish reading No Country for Old Men, you’ll see a picture reviewing that book as well.
Dedicating myself to reading Glimmer Train means I miss out on reading truly mind-bending stories. Glimmer Train can still challenge my perceptions of the world and make me look at things in a new light— it’s just that I miss out on one of my favorite reading thoughts if I spend all my time with literary fiction. What reading thought do I mean? I’m talking about that moment when I move my head away from the page and think, “The fuck am I reading?” Sometimes when I think that, it’s a bad sign (even if that’s what the author wants me to think, like with Bleeding Edge). Most of the time, I treasure the moment I have that thought, and I end up treasuring the book. I didn’t think that thought while reading “What We Saw”… but the right ingredients are there for that kind of reaction. Which is why I find it so exciting that this type of story made it into Glimmer Train. In fact, I’m a bit envious. I’ve started this project so I can better fit in with Glimmer Train’s expectations, and here comes Kadetsky with an entirely original and different work to join the annals of this otherwise normal journal. She didn’t need to fit it, she already knew she had some great things to share.
I’m honored to be a part of the My Trending Stories team, but I’m also a bit overwhelmed by the prospect. How am I going to introduce who I am and what I do to a whole new audience? Moreover, what will be the subject of my first essay? I talk about my journey as a writer on Word Salad Spinner, but I’ll be the first to admit that most of my current projects (Glimmer Train Reviews, Canterbury Tales Battle Royale) are, while worth reading by all, still written out of personal interest first. Despite all the work I do critiquing literature and posting my own stories, what my readers really seem to love is when I talk about an event in my own life. Especially if said event paints me in a bad light. So let’s start off My Trending Stories Journey with some confessions on my part.
There was actually a great time to tell this story, but that moment passed me by. For a few days, all of America was shouting at and arguing about (but mostly at) Brock Turner. Turner was convicted on three counts of sexually assaulting a woman. His punishment: six months in prison, which will become three months if he behaves well. This case repeats many of the same motions as The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, just with the names and details updated for this generation. So it’s a case of justice not being served— I imagine such a story could live in the headlines for a few days tops. What kept this story in the news was every stupid, deflecting, and unaware justification that came from Brock Turner’s friends and family. “He’s a nice kid!” “He’s never been violent before!” “The real problem is excessive drinking on campus!” All excuses, all horseshit. And yet, here comes the confession. I can see where Brock’s friends and family are coming from. Nothing they say will ever make up for or permit the horrible crime that Turner committed. But I’m not so shocked that his family and his friends still think highly of him. And here’s why.
I’m going to protect the identity of the man in question. I’ll explain why later. Let’s call him Stanley. A friend and I sought to find a film crew to help us record one of my theater group’s skits. Out of the many people contacted, Stanley was the only one who was available at the time to meet up with us. He loved our skit, and he loved goofing around with us as we filmed the script my friend called “his baby.” After two filming sessions, we had all the footage we needed. Stanley directed the project, and he held onto all the footage for editing purposes.
I thought we’d be out of contact for a while after filming wrapped up. But to my surprise, I see him again at the Best Of show my theater group held. I already found Stanley jovial and friendly, but the fact that he came to support my organization made me like him even more. And he certainly endeared himself to my friends after the show, offering rides, and showing us the fruits of his editing, and sharing army tales with our resident soldier-in-training.
During our after-party, Stanley mentions that he’s looking for a place to crash for the upcoming week. And what luck— turns out I’m leaving tomorrow to spend a week in my hometown! I ask him if he wants to stay at my apartment, and he says yes. I call my roommate to ask if it’s ok, and they (nonbinary, though female-presenting) say yes. I give Stanley my keys, show him where I live, and catch a few hours of much-sought-after rest after finishing a semester of college that night.
I take a bus the next day over to my hometown. While I’m trying to sleep, my roommate keeps texting me. They’re uncertain about Stanley staying over. They’ve checked his Facebook page and can’t hide their worry over his pro-second-amendment posts. I chalk that anxiety up to their left-leaning ways (quick question; how many people do you know outside the gender-binary vote Republican?) and assure them that I trust Stanley and think he’s a good guy. There’s a failure to communicate at both ends here. My roommate doesn’t outright say “I’m uncomfortable with Stanley staying over, and I don’t want him around.” Saying that could’ve saved us some trouble. But I failed to read between the texts and deduce their message on my own.
So how’s this portrait I’m painting, new reader? Good-hearted, but naïve and bad at social signals, that’s certainly me.
I spend a delightful week at my parents’ house. I get a little worried because by Tuesday, my roommate says that Stanley still hasn’t moved in. But he’s in my place by Wednesday, and things are fine between my roommate and him, so all is well. In fact, the relationship between my roommate and him is nonexistent. They’re busy with school and work, and he’s often out of the house on the nights when they’re in. I don’t dwell on it.
I arrive in my apartment Saturday, a day before Stanley planned to leave my place as per our agreement. I find Stanley in my room, playing an MMORPG on his laptop and drinking beer on the floor. I ask him for my keys back and he delivers; now I’m the only one who can let him in my apartment. At this point, I flop on my bed. I just came back from a long bus ride, and would prefer to lie down and veg out with some YouTube. But Stanley wants to talk. And after I listen to his speaking for a while out of politeness, I start to put pieces together. He’s talking because he’s lonely. He’s still friendly, but he comes across like he hasn’t had human contact in a week. He tells me he spent the part of the week before Wednesday at his mother’s house, which is apparently a shithole filled with piles of dog crap and no access to bathing or showering. When he got to my place, he had the first shower he had in a week and a half. That, the drinking, the lack of communication between my roommate and him, and the fact that he’s playing an MMO with sexy angel ladies in it, they all come together to form the kind of guy that my mother would tell me is looking for a friend. Humans are social creatures, and he has been deprived of that part of humanity. His condition isn’t my roommate’s fault— they’ve got their own life, and don’t owe Stanley anything. But the least I can do for this guy, in this moment, is be an active listener.
I also need, in this moment, to clean up this apartment for a visiting prospective roommate tomorrow. So I’m throwing away his beer cans and washing the floor, and meanwhile Stanley’s ranting about why the local newspaper sucks, and about all the multi-faceted causes behind police brutality, and about why those Star Wars prequels are bullshit, man. He’s on a roll. He’s clearly drunk. And I love it. I find keeping up my end of conversations exhausting, so it’s always great to find someone willing to open their heart to me and spare me the trouble of doing the same. My roommate comes home, and today they officially graduated college! Hooray! We hug them, and I go back to cleaning.
Stanley comes back to talking a minute later, and he soon goes back to ranting. At this point, he’s telling a story about what happened a few days ago. One of Stanley’s hobbies, apparently, is to go out to bars to “protect” the women he finds there. During this week, he visited a gay bar and swore his service to a petite woman. He followed her, escorting her through crowds and watching her drinks and holding her hand. When it’s past midnight and she’s going to her car (and this is why I’m telling this story, says Stanley), she says she’s parked two blocks away. She then proceeds to take forty-five minutes to get to her car. Once she sees her vehicle in the parking garage, she says to Stanley “Oh there it is! Thank goodness. You can go now.” Stanley, in telling the story to me, says that this frustrates him. His military training compels him to finish the job. But he accepts her command, and tells me, “I do what she says, that’s what makes me a protector instead of a stalker.” He leaves the petite woman with a kiss to the hand and the forehead.
My roommate, hearing this story from their room, later tells me that this was an instant red flag for them. And while I don’t say that to him right there… look, this story’s painting me as naïve, and I am, but I’m not that dumb. I put my apprehension in more diplomatic terms, however. I tell him that, judging from the information given to me, this girl was not interested in being with him and clearly wanted him to go away. Stanley gives his reasons why he thought the girl liked him, and then the flow of conversation moved on. My main takeaway at that point was that Stanley had an old-fashioned and misguidedly noble idea about female companionship, which valued fantasies that I once thought about, but never acted on, when I was younger (that is, the idea of being a woman’s heroic knight and loyal servant all at once).
At some point, Stanley asks me if I’ve heard of Kelly Thomas. I say no. This is the point where Stanley goes from animated-drunk to serious-as-a-murder drunk. “Well you should,” he says. He says Kelly Thomas was a homeless veteran who asked a policeman for shelter one night, and got an answer in the form of a half-hour-long beating. Thomas was hospitalized. He died five days later from the injuries. Not minutes, not hours. A beating so rough that Thomas spent almost a week in agony before death released him. The beating was caught on security camera. Stanley loaded up the video on his laptop and said it’s important that I watch it. He’d hang out at a bar during my private viewing— this was a video that he could not see twice. He leaves my apartment, and I start watching the video.
A few minutes later, my roommate emerges from their room, pissed off and exclaiming, “Thank God he’s gone!” They tell me about the red flag they got, and they ask me if I actually want him to stay over. I sputter out some “well”s and “he has nowhere else to go”s. They then tell me of what happened when they arrived back home tonight. We hugged them to celebrate their end of college, and they went back to their room. Stanley followed. Stanley gave them a long hug and said something to the effect of “You know, at first I didn’t know if you welcomed me here, but now I can feel it.” He then walked out of their room to tell me his “protector” story. They waited in their room, listening, hoping he’d leave.
“That’s it,” I said. “He’s leaving.”
There it is.
Did you catch it?
It was my first lie to the My Trending Stories audience.
“He’s leaving” is what I wish I said. What I actually said was “That’s it, he’s leaving tomorrow.”
Don’t worry— nothing bad came of that one word choice. But even though I was trying to honor the original agreement between Stanley and me— and because I wasn’t sure of how to get rid of his blanket, knives, laptop, medication, and hidden gun— I planned to let him back in and guard my roommate’s door for the night. Which proved not to be needed because my roommate decided to stay with their partner that evening. Still, that’s how much I was willing to risk in order to preserve a balance. Like a fiddler on the roof, if the fiddler had no idea what tune he was playing.
My roommate leaves, and I finish the Kelly Thomas video. I’ll link it here because I feel it’s an important video for anyone who wants to combat police brutality in America. But I also advise you that once you see this video, there’s no going back. It will punch your heart out, and any good feeling or memories in you will drain out of the hole it leaves. Any innocence you have will not survive contact with that video.
After I’m done, and after I stare at nothing for 15 minutes, I call Stanley and tell him I can let him back in now. Stanley says he’s still out at the bar. I tell him, in broken speech, that I’ll stay up until midnight, and after that point I’m going to bed and won’t be around to let him in. It takes about twenty minutes to communicate that idea— both of us are not quite there, but for different reasons. Midnight arrives after hours of trying to feel again. I go to bed, leaving Stanley outside for the night.
The next morning, I’ve forgotten about most of this. Stanley’s not there, so I push his stuff to the corner of the living room and apologize for it when the new roommate comes to inspect the place. The new roommate and I later drive off to the next town for lunch. It’s when I’m at the next town that I get a message about Stanley from my current roommate. They wanted to know where he was. I said somewhere downtown. Then my current roommate sent me a link to a crime article.
2:30 am that morning, close to the bar Stanley said he was going to, a man approached a woman sitting on a bench. He made advances, offered a ride so he could take her home. She turned him down. He spat in her face. She yelled at him. He spat at her again. Their arguing continued until he knocked her down in an alley. When the police arrived, the man fled. The woman was hospitalized. The man’s description, on several accounts, fit Stanley. The woman was petite: just like the one Stanley tried to “protect” a few days ago.
After leaving the meeting with my new roommate, I take the walk back to my apartment. It’s a long walk. My skin is sweating under the summer sun, but my gut’s also hot and heavy. I didn’t sign up to host a potential criminal in my apartment, and I certainly didn’t know if he was there, waiting outside, right now.
I arrive at my apartment. Stanley’s not there. My current roommate’s back, trying to keep composure. My roommate did some research last night. Turns out Stanley tried to move in with his ex-wife and two daughters some weeks back. It didn’t work out, for whatever reason, hence him needing the room. I don’t remember why he said he needed a place to crash. But I’m sure he didn’t mention his family life.
My roommate’s trying to keep calm, and I don’t help matters by mentioning that Stanley’s gun is on our premise. We hit our limit; we call the police to have them remove Stanley’s handgun and knives. While the policeman’s there, he also finds ammo for a semiautomatic. I’m sure Stanley’s licensed for it, as he showed me his handgun license last night in the middle of his ramblings. That’s not a comfort.
We told the policeman our suspicions about Stanley and last night’s assault. The policeman said they had Stanley in custody, but not for the reasons we assumed. They arrested Stanley at 3:30, an hour after the assault on the petite woman took place, for making drunken passes at women in a hotel lobby. He’d be let out once he sobered up— likely this afternoon.
After the policeman left, I, my roommate, and my roommate’s boyfriend and girlfriend packed up Stanley’s stuff and put it on the sidewalk right by the window. I volunteered to stay here tonight and make sure that Stanley received his gear once he got out.
I sent a text to Stanley, and then I waited. The suspense was omnipresent, lurking under each pacing footstep I took, appearing every time I opened the refrigerator out of habit. I jumped at every pair of legs passing by the window of my basement apartment. Much like last night, I didn’t even want to distract myself with video games or reading, worried that those entertainments would be tainted with memories of this low point. Would Stanley get angry? Would his frustrations with women turn on me?
Stanley, when he arrived, wasn’t angry with me. I saw him approach, and I called him on his phone while hiding from the window’s view. I ended up treating the situation like a hostage exchange. “Your belongings are under the blanket. Look under the blanket. You’ll find a yellow sheet of paper confirming that your gun and knives are at the police station.” I predicted that Stanley would be upset at me. He seemed dejected at the news instead, sighing and saying “Well, that’s where I just came from.” He took one box and left. He returned. He took the second box, the last box. That was the last I saw of him.
Before he left, I asked him what he was doing at 2:30, the time of the assault (though I didn’t tell him the last part). He said he was being arrested at that time. The policeman who told me about the arrest would likely disagree with that.
I felt Stanley’s presence when I slept alone in the apartment that night. With every banging in the pipes, and with every beeping sound from another apartment, he was there. When the night wind blew, the possibility of his arrival followed. Somehow, I was still able to fall asleep amongst all this. But then I woke up. He had sent me a text message. I still had his laptop charger.
Stanley seemed aware that I wasn’t comfortable with him, though. He told me I could drop it off at the police station. I obliged. I also called the anonymous tip line to tell them what I suspected concerning the assault and Stanley. The person on the line gave me a number to check up on. I told the police that Stanley was coming by to pick up his charger. Weeks later, Stanley came by. He picked up his charger. The police didn’t arrest him.
It was only after Stanley told me he had the charger that I unfriended him on Facebook and officially cut off contact with him. And that’s something I only did at the urging of friends, family, and therapist. Why? I had excuses at the time: remember the skit, my friend’s “baby?” Stanley still had that for a while. I eventually worked up the courage to ask him if I could re-edit and publish the edition of the skit he gave me if he didn’t get around to it in time. He said yes. He later messaged me saying he wasn’t sure what he did to get my cold responses, but he was sorry and he admitted that he wasn’t in a good place at the time of his arrest. That bought him a couple days. But here’s the real reason: even after what he may have done, I see in him a broken man going through a lot of shit. He clearly doesn’t know how to interact with people. He had heavy medication on his person— not the same meds I have for anxiety and depression, but ones with a lot of milligrams. His life sucked. He didn’t know how to appropriately deal with his pain. Again, none of those observations are excuses for what he may have done. They’re just observations. I figure if you’re a veteran with a mental illness and you saw the Kelly Thomas video, you’d probably run from the cops too. I wanted to help— maybe he’d stop threatening harm on others if he had a better outlet for his loneliness and pain. I could help. But that’s it— “I could help” was the exact phrase that got me into this mess. I will not willingly contact Stanley again.
I suppose there are two lessons to learn here. One: I’ve been accused of living in a bubble and being naïve to the dangers of the world. If you think you live in a bubble, don’t worry about going out to look for danger— trust me, the danger will find you.
The other lesson regards why all those people will defend Brock Turner. Usually, rapists in books or movies radiate awfulness at all times, with no quality to recommend them no matter how deep their psyche is probed. The truth is, people with that nasty a dark side can be charming and charismatic when they want to be, which means that it becomes difficult to confront them if they ever do something so horrendous. It’s essentially the terrible endpoint to the message Dana Schwartz conveyed in her article here: even people nice to their daughters and wives and friends can still be toxic. And honestly? I’m still kinda there. I’m not revealing Stanley’s true name or any incriminating information because he went to the police station, picked up his charger and walked off free. The police, even informed by my tip, did not consider him the culprit. It’s possible the police are wrong. It’s possible that I might be making things worse by shutting Stanley out, and I’m a horrible person for not barging into his mom’s house and making a citizen’s arrest. But there it is again— that kind of thinking. The kind that makes you add “tomorrow” at the end of your statements. The kind where you’re a knight, and everyone’s a princess, even the dragons. If you’ve read this far, you’ve learned that I get in over my head a lot. But know this: I’m always learning, and I hope to never stop changing. I need to change who I let into my social circle.
For a while, things didn’t look good for my weekly page goal. I was writing more than 14 pages a week (the goal from two years ago), but I still kept falling short of 21 pages in the same amount of time. Every day of writing I skipped became an insurmountable obstacle for writing enough for week’s end. That was the first part of 2016. Now I’m back in a good position, and here’s how I (temporarily) made it.
I’m starting to notice a pattern of simple, storybook-like narration in stories starring people from non-American cultures. It’s apparent in Persepolis (a graphic novel I highly recommend), and it’s also clear in “Miss Me Forever” (which I also recommend, though not as highly as the former book. “Miss Me Forever,” starring a Nepalese immigrant to America named Tulsi, is narrated in third-person, unlike Persepolis. But when the narrator says something like “Tulsi does not like Halloween, and will be happy when it has passed” (Cross, 117), the word choice and re-clarified information brings to mind a father reading an age-appropriate book to his son. Which fits, since this is a story about innocence in several ways.
Tulsi travels to the United States after escaping a refugee camp and losing his sister to another family. He compares himself to Jonah, and religion is certainly on his mind once he enrolls in Pastor Ken’s ESL class (whether this is part of or supplementary to his high school, the story doesn’t make clear. I’m not even sure what ESL means). The immigrant strikes up a friendship with Ken’s wife Abigail, which blossoms until Ken takes up a position at another church and the couple has to move. Tulsi travels to see her, but must learn to face abandonment one more time.
You can tell by this description that this short story will end with a sad and poignant moment, which it does. But the whole story brings about an air of loneliness simply because Abigail’s usually the only other person in a scene when Tulsi’s not alone. Tulsi spends time with others of his kin, such as his grandfather and his neighbors, but their conversations usually consist of complaining about America. Abigail is full of life and hope, which is why Tulsi finds himself drawn to her. His innocence drives forward the plot in a way that shows a good combination of story and character— each is dependent on the other. And with a careful selection of which scenes to put in the story, Tulsi’s isolation comes across well. Cross chose not to show Tulsi having comfortable interactions with other Americans for a reason.
Eugene Cross is certainly well accomplished, with his stories appearing in American Short Fiction, Callaloo, and Story Quarterly.He has received numerous writing awards, and has a collection of short stories called Fires of Our Choosing coming out. He can be contacted on twitter @EugeneCross1. In a way, “Miss Me Forever” is a great example of a typical Glimmer Train story, in terms of subject matter and themes. It might not reach the heights of some of the things I’m reading now (like Persepolis), but there’s certainly nothing wrong with it.
Interested in this story? Buy it and many others here!